Colours & Standards
Such became the significance in this context that, for a regiment to lose its colours was (and still is) a major disgrace, with the capture of an enemy’s colours (or equivalent) being seen as a great honour.
In the case of the Colours being threatened it was a soldier’s duty to pick up the Colours and, at all costs, save them. “Indeed a greater act of cowardice cannot be found than to suffer the Colours to be lost” records Francis Grose in his Military Antiquities (1786–88).
In the old tradition, if a mortally wounded ensign wrapped the Colours around his body and died with them, the Colours were not considered lost. The honour of the Colours was carried with the ensign’s soul to heaven “to the possession of the eternal forever” and the enemy was denied the honour of having captured them. This is why that, whenever the Colours are paraded, they are always escorted by armed guards and paid the highest compliments by all soldiers and officers, second only to the Head of State.
Due to the advent of modern weapons, and subsequent changes in tactics, Colours are no longer carried into battle and instead, they are carried in parades and reviews, and displayed in formations and ceremonies in remembrance of their former presence on the battlefield. It remains a tradition that whenever military personnel meet a Colour, it must be saluted. This is not only because it is an object which represents the authority of the Head of State but also because the Colours contain a regiment’s battle honours, and thus represent the regiment’s history and its dead.
Saluting a Colour is thus a pivotal act in retaining an awareness of regimental history and traditions and is key in the functioning of the regimental system. The Regimental Colour (or Standard or Guidon) is always paraded whenever the regiment is on a formal parade. However, the King’s/Queen’s or President’s Colour is only paraded on certain occasions.
A Regiment Colour, like the King's/Queen's or President’s Colour, is a highly revered object in the military. Any military personnel who comes across a Regimental or King’s or Queen’s Colour must salute to it. This is a tribute paid not only to the Head of State’s authority but also to the regiment’s past accomplishments as well as those who have died for them.
When the Colours are being paraded, they are carried either by an officer or warrant officer, dependent on the regiment. The Colours always have an armed escort, the Colour Party, who would normally be non-commissioned officers.
‘Trooping the Colours’ is an old ceremony first performed during the reign of Charles II whereby the battalion would fall in by companies and the Colour Party would ‘troop’ or march the Colours through the ranks so that every man would see that the Colours were intact. This was done before and after every battle. This ceremony has been retained through time and is today largely ceremonial.
When a regiment is presented with new Colours, the old Colours, which will now never again be paraded, are laid up (i.e. put on permanent display) in a place sacred to the regiment (for example the regimental church).
Because of their importance to the regiment, prior to a new stand of colours being presented, they are consecrated. Consecration is the solemn dedication to a special purpose or service, usually religious. The word ‘consecration’ literally means ‘setting apart’. When the Colours are not being paraded, most regiments house them in their Officers’ Mess.
A Regimental Colour is normally presented to a regiment or a battalion by the British sovereign or Head of State in a high-profile military parade ceremony. The presentation of a new Regimental Colour and King’s or Queen’s Colour is normally performed in a regiment once every few decades, and the old or retired Colours are safe-kept in the regiment’s church or chapel for public display. An old Colour is never destroyed because of its historical value and the Royal Authority that it represents.
Other forms of ‘Colours’
By tradition, rifle regiments do not carry colours; this goes back to their formation, when they were used as skirmishers and sharpshooters. While individual units may have had banners or pennants to distinguish themselves from other units, regiments as a whole never needed a full stand of Colours.
Today, the two rifle regiments in the British Army, the Royal Green Jackets and the Royal Gurkha Rifles carry their battle honours on their drums, while the Green Jackets also have theirs inscribed on their cap badge. In place of a Regimental Colour, the Gurkhas carry the Queen’s Truncheon.
Heavy Cavalry (i.e. Horse Guards and Dragoon Guards) carry a The Standard as their equivalent to infantry colours. At 27in. × 30in., on an 8ft. 6in. long pole, it is much smaller than infantry colours, so that it can be carried by a soldier on horseback.
The Guidon is the equivalent for the Light Cavalry (ie: Dragoons, Light Dragoons, Hussars and Lancers). It is swallow-tailed, 27in × 41in, with an 8ft 6in long pole.
The word ‘guidon' is a corruption of the French guide homme—‘guide man’. Originally each troop had its own, but this was quickly reduced to a single, regimental one. With the increased dispersion of troops required in the light cavalry role, their operational function had ceased by the 1830s and they were discontinued.
The regiment's kettledrums, with the Battle Honours woven onto the Drum Banners (with the exception of 3rd The King’s Own Hussars and its successors, where they are uncovered, with the Battle Honours engraved onto the kettledrums themselves) became the focal point of the regiment’s loyalty. In 1952 King George VI reintroduced the Guidons of the Light Cavalry for ceremonial purposes.
Both the Standard and the Guidon are usually of crimson trimmed in gold and with the regiment’s insignia in the centre. The regiment’s battle honours are emblazoned on both the obverse and reverse, upto a maximum of 22 on each side.
The History & Traditions of the Colour of The Rhodesian Light Infantry
(Extract from the October 1980 RLI Cheetah Magazine)
There are two Stands of Colour of the Rhodesian Light Infantry, these being, the Pre- and Post-Republic Stands.
On the 19th June 1965, the First Battalion The Rhodesian Light Infantry received their Colours on a full ceremonial parade from the then Governor of Rhodesia, His Excellency Sir Humphrey Gibbs, K.C.M.G., O.B.E.
A dedication ceremony and drum head ceremony was held, conducted by chaplains of the Rhodesian Corps of Chaplains.
The Colours were approved by Her Majesty The Queen on 15th July 1963, and the College of Arms and bearing the signature of Queen Elizabeth II, were hung in the office of the Commanding Officer.
The Queen’s Colour bears the Royal Crown and the inscription ‘The Rhodesian Light Infantry’ on the traditional background of the Union Jack.
The Regimental Colour consists of the Regimental badge surrounded by the words ‘The Rhodesian Light Infantry’ and a laurel wreath of flame lilies surmounted by the Royal Crown on a green background.
The Regimental Colours of the RLI are unique among all Regiments that have served the British Monarch, in having a wreath of flame lilies surrounding the Regimental Crest instead of the traditional wreath of roses and thistles. The Colours were housed in the Silver Room of the Officers’ Mess. They were only removed for ceremonial parades and formal mess functions. The Colours were looked after by officers so appointed by the Adjutant and were not to be handled by any other person. This rule was waivered during mess functions in the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess when the Commanding Officer gave authority to the Regimental Sergeant-Major for the Colours to be transferred from the Officers’ Mess for display purposes. The Regimental Sergeant-Major was then responsible for organizing a proper escort party to collect and return the Colours.
After a ceremonial parade, the Colour Party marched to the main entrance of the Officers’ Mess. Once the subalterns returned the Colours to the Silver Room, the Mess Sergeant would bring to the Colour Party a silver tray bearing a decanter of sherry and five glasses. Each member of the Colour Party would receive a glass of sherry before dismissal.
The Adjutant and Regimental Sergeant-Major were responsible for selection of the Colour Party. The escort, consisting of a warrant officer and two colour sergeants or sergeants, would be nominated by the Regimental Sergeant-Major.
In 1966, a tradition was commenced whereby the RSM, in the evening after a ceremonial parade, when the Colours had been paraded, would send from the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess, liquid refreshment for the ensign or ensigns being in the form of congratulations on their expected high standard of drill on that day’s parade.
The Queen’s Colour has not been carried on any parade since the 1st April 1970 following the declaration of the Republic of Rhodesia.
The design for the new Colours for the RLI were approved by His Excellency, The President of Rhodesia, The Hon. C. Dupont, GCLM, ID, during early 1971.
They were scheduled to be presented to the Battalion in late 1972 / early 1973. As no money was forthcoming from the government for their manufacture, the Battalion decided to go ahead and produce them themselves.
To this end a Mrs. Mealing was given the job of producing them. She completed them in July of 1980 and they were displayed for the first time to the Battalion on the 8th August 1980.
The President’s Colour bears the Coat of Arms of Rhodesia, surrounded by the inscription ‘The Rhodesian Light Infantry’ on the background of the colours of the Rhodesian flag.
The Regimental Colour consists of the Regimental badge surrounded by the words ‘The Rhodesian Light Infantry’ and a laurel wreath of flame lilies, on a green background.
These Colours were never official colours as they were never consecrated or, officially presented. However, the intention was that they would hang with the other Battalion mementos wherever they might be held.